Quaker Valley School communities in demand

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After 10 years in the Washington, D.C., area, Pittsburgh natives Ryan and Krista Miller had the option to live anywhere in the Pittsburgh region when they decided to move back home last year with their three small children. They chose Sewickley.

The affluent lifestyle, the small village atmosphere and the public school reputation are usually at the top of the list when homeowners talk about what attracted them to the tony suburban community along the Ohio River where last month there were 25 active listings on the market for homes priced at more than $1 million.

Steady demand from people like the Millers has helped Sewickley claim a place among the top 15 communities in the Pittsburgh region where residential real estate values experienced the highest appreciation over the past 20 years. In a region where homeowners typically tend to buy a home and stay put for decades, real estate agents say Sewickley sees more turnover than most neighborhoods due to corporate managers relocating in and out of Pittsburgh.

“It’s a very transient area,” said Dan Kite, a real estate agent with Northwoods Realty. “There’s lots of relocation, but there’s not a ton of movement in the high range. It’s mostly the midrange homes priced between $250,000 to $500,000.”

Actually, Sewickley is part of a concentration of communities leading the region in residential real estate appreciation over the past two decades, with four of the top 15 — Osborne, Edgeworth, Sewickley and Sewickley Hills boroughs — all in the Quaker Valley School District.

An analysis of real estate data from 1993 to 2013 by RealSTATs, a South Side real estate information service, shows median home values in Osborne have increased 150 percent from $185,000 to $464,000 during that time frame. Median home values in Sewickley Hills climbed 154 percent from $169,250 to $430,574. Sewickley median home prices jumped 217 percent from $85,000 to $270,000. Edgeworth home values saw a 72 percent rise from $243,000 to $419,500.

“We liked the charm and character of the places we lived in Georgetown and McLean, Va., and we wanted to find a way to somewhat replicate that in Pittsburgh,” said Mr. Miller, 33, who works for a global commercial real estate company based in New York.

Located about 12 miles northwest of the city, along the Ohio River, Sewickley is part of the nationally recognized Quaker Valley School District, where wealth appears to have a considerable effect on the quality of public education.

“With three kids, we also wanted an area with a reputable school district,” Mr. Miller said. Their 5-year-old daughter will start at Edgeworth Elementary in the fall. The other two, ages 3 and 1, will enroll in local preschool and pre-K programs.

Easy access to major highways — Interstate 79 and Route 65 — and to the Pittsburgh International Airport also appeals to corporate managers who travel for work and their families.

The average active listing price in the Quaker Valley School District is $806,000, according to the West Penn Multi-list, which benefits the school district where 2,000 students attend all grades.

The school district has been listed by Newsweek as having one of the top-performing high schools in the nation for 10 years in a row. All of its four school buildings — two elementary schools, one middle school and a high school — are designated National Blue Ribbon Schools by the federal Department of Education.

The College Board announced in 2013 that 65 Quaker Valley High School students earned the AP Scholar designation, including one National AP Scholar, for exceptional achievement in the college-level Advanced Placement program. In May 2013, 159 of the district’s students completed 303 AP exams in 21 subjects, earning a 93 percent pass rate.

Other communities in the school district include Bell Acres, Glenfield, Haysville, Leetsdale, Sewickley Heights, Aleppo and Leet townships.

Some residents in the district are less affluent, as indicated by the percentage of students whose parents’ income is low enough for them to qualify for subsidized lunch. According to the state Department of Education, more than 13 percent of students at Edgeworth Elementary receive reduced lunch rates; nearly 10 percent at Osborne Elementary are on subsidized lunch; 11 percent at the middle school qualify; and 11.5 percent at the high school do, as well.

Even within the high levels of real estate appreciation in the district, the housing stock offers a wide range for buyers.

Sewickley Heights, where the Allegheny Country Club is located, requires home sites to have at least five acres of land. Homes in Edgeworth tend to be older and built close together, but their prices are higher than other areas of the school district. But in Leetsdale, located near the Beaver County line, the median income for a family was $35,775 according to 2012 census data.

Retirees Chuck and Maggie Setler have no children in the school system. But when they bought their home a year and a half ago, they recognized the school district’s reputation would help their property value when they decide to sell.

“I guess the sense of community is what drew me to Sewickley,” said Mrs. Setler, 65. “There are all kinds of community events, and a real downtown area you can go to and shop. It’s like living in the 1950s.” She said she didn’t feel the same sense of community in east suburban areas that she has lived, places like Churchill, Penn Hills, Murrysville and Export.

Mrs. Setler said when her 73-year-old husband retired in 1998 from Westinghouse where he worked as an engineer, they bought a 10-acre country house in Export because that had been his dream. After 15 years of living with goats and chickens in a rural setting, he said it was her turn to choose where they would live next.

She became acquainted with Sewickley when he began doing pottery at Sweetwater Center for the Arts. She volunteered at the art center, joined its board, got to know the people and fell in love with the community.

“You can walk every place in Sewickley,” Mrs. Setler said. “People walk on the sidewalks all the time. People speak to you. They will stop and talk to you. It’s friendly.”

Kathy Barge, a real estate agent with Howard Hanna Real Estate Services, said the walking community concept and fact that there is always so much going on makes Sewickley good for families with school-age children. On any given weekend, the village streets could be blocked off for a church sale, a garden party for plant sales, a festival devoted to dogs, wine tastings, scavenger hunts, races or house tours.

“There are lots of transplants here, which makes it easy for outsiders to become part of the community,” Ms. Barge said, adding, “There’s lots of turnover. There’s always lots of people moving in and out, and that’s what keeps prices up.”

Charlie Harris, a 58-year-old Pittsburgh attorney, bought a home with his wife in Edgeworth about a month ago after living 18 years in McCandless.

“We had been looking in the area of Sewickley and Edgeworth for two years trying to find the right house,” he said, adding that during that time period his daughter enrolled at the private school Sewickley Academy and commuted 14 miles each way.

“The neighborhood we lived in in McCandless was a driving neighborhood,” he said. “You had to drive everywhere. The neighborhood we moved to, we can walk to the village in Sewickley. We can walk to restaurants, church, the library and even the grocery store, depending on how much stuff we plan to get.”

Tim Grant: tgrant@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1591.

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